Digesting the lowest rung of pop culture so you don't have to!
Getting Back to my Roots (Again)
May 10, 2013Posted by on
The mid-80s were a boom period in Japanese animation. Several experimental films, such as Mamoru Oshii’s Angel’s Egg or the anthology Robot Carnival, could have only been made in this time period. The original video animation (OVA for short) market exploded in the 80s as well, with projects like MegaZone-23 and its first sequel becoming wildly popular. More and more Japanese animation found its way to the American market as well, and the 1980s gave rise to the popularity of projects such as Robotech. Other unique works released in this time period include Crystal Triangle, Saint Seiya, and Fist of the North Star. While the properties were not always high quality, they were almost always unique and uncharacteristic of things that had come before them (Fist of the North Star, for example, pretty much set the standard for the Shounen action television format – one that continues to this day). The decade ended with considerable strength in the form of Patlabor: The Movie, another Oshii work that stands as one of my favorite animated films of all time. The work of art, and I use that term loosely, that I will be discussing today is neither unique nor good – it only exists as its awful self. That work would be the 1986 anti-classic M.D. Geist.
M.D. Geist is exploitative, violent, and utterly horrendous throughout its 40 minute (46 minute director’s cut) run-time. The animation is atrocious in most places (the much laughed-at bloody sand scene being the hilarious low-point) and the story is incoherent and hard to follow. Essentially, M.D. Geist is the story (the beginning of which is told largely in text captions) of Geist, a “Most Dangerous” soldier who was genetically engineered by the Jerran Army (the story takes place on the fictional planet Jerra) in order to fight against the technologically advanced Nexrum Army. The plan works too well, as the soldiers labeled Most Dangerous go above and beyond the call of duty, decimating swaths and causing untold, apocalyptic levels of damage across the planet. Geist is somehow captured and held prisoner in cryo-stasis, where he will be unable to horrifically murder thousands of people, innocent or otherwise, ever again. Unfortunately, he escapes his cryo-sleep, falling from a satellite orbiting Jerra to the earth below, somehow surviving. Of course, his homicidal instincts return.
M.D. Geist was incredibly popular in the US. It’s actually kind of easy to see why. Geist himself is a character in the vein of the Terminator or even Rambo – an unstoppable killing machine always ready to bring the violence. American audiences have never really minded violence all that much in popular entertainment, after all. It helped of course that the landscape for animation was different in Geist’s 1980s heyday. Anything not Hanna-Barbera, Disney, or Warner Bros. probably had the potential to reach an audience of older, theoretically more mature sci-fi fans. The market for this kind of thing was beginning to blossom, and indeed M.D. Geist eventually became so popular that Central Park Media, the now-defunct anime licensing company behind its American distribution, actually commissioned a sequel ten years later, the somehow even more dreadful M.D. Geist 2: Death Force.
Spoiling the story in M.D. Geist really isn’t that big of a deal at this point. Geist himself is an unreliable sociopath in a story so incoherent it could have only come from 1980s Japan. After his release from stasis, Geist immediately finds himself in the midst an ongoing war between the Nexrum Army (still around) and the Regular Army (who must be devoted to eating copious amounts of bran flakes or something). After dispatching a local thug (and getting to see the aforementioned sand-blood), Geist catches the eye of Vaiya, a female character who exists solely to try and sleep with Geist. He shrugs her off, only interested in gathering intel about the ongoing conflict. Geist’s next move is to assault the Nexrum Army, who are attacking a Jerran convoy. He meets up with his old superior, Colonel Krutes (which is just short enough of Kurtz so as not to be an outright rip-off, I suppose) and the two plan an assault on the Brain Palace, where a mysterious “death force” will be released, destroying what remains of humanity unless stopped.
This is actually where M.D. Geist gets kind of interesting. Krutes betrays the most dangerous soldier, sending a robot death machine to dispatch our hero. Geist, however, makes quick work of the robot (which then turns into another, deadlier, smaller robot). He makes quick work of the second robot, and then kills Krutes, who had turned off the death force. As Vaiya enters the Brain Palace, Geist re-starts the death force countdown, shocking and horrifying Vaiya. You see, it turns out that Geist was really just an insane, murderous sociopath the entire time (which, of course, we already knew). Geist had no interest in saving the remnants of humanity – he exists only to fight in the next conflict, bring misery and pain into the world, and murder anyone in his path. The film ends on this sort of cliffhanger, with the viewer left to wonder what will happen to Jerra and its inhabitants.
As noted earlier, M.D. Geist was not a one-shot OVA. In 1996, Central Park Media commissioned a sequel which retained the same writer and animation studio, but had a new director. Somehow, despite ten years of enormous progress in the medium, M.D. Geist 2: Death Force somehow looks worse than the film that preceded it. Perhaps I’ll cover part two in a future segment, but I’m not really sure if I want to subject myself to it one more time. As Japanese animation became increasingly popular in America in the early to mid 90s, its reputation seemed to worsen amongst the general media and frightened parents that make up those now-outdated watchdog groups. Along with dreck like Legend of the Overfiend, I want to believe that M.D. Geist is almost single-handedly responsible for this negative reputation. The film is just about the right balance of violence, incoherent story, and bad animation. I cannot recommend watching it, but then again I highly recommend watching. I’m pretty sure I got this movie, along with its sequel, for about $3 on the iTunes store. If you’re at all curious, watch it and see what I have seen.